Jan 16, 2008

That Hurts

It has been a trying start to the New Year for me and my family. I'm not sure what exactly is behind everything, but I just know it has been hard. Part of the problem with working in a non-profit ministry is that you are at the mercy of other people for finances. We have to rely on donations, bookings, and sales. And when none of those things are coming in, well, nothing can really go out. So the start of the year has been VERY difficult for us. I'm not going to lie, I have not enjoyed it - and it has been the source of a lot of anger and poor choices on my part.

We have all tried to figure out what is going on - why things seem to just randomly dry up and such. And we never really get an answer. We pray like crazy, hoping that God will change things to make it better. I have been out applying for jobs, trying to come up with some income to at least cover something. Any of you in the job search mode can testify - people are not hiring very much right now. So, all of this makes it a bit of a mess. I firmly believe God led us to this ministry, that He wanted us to start it and get it going. I believe that many people have been and many more will be helped through it. And I need to trust that He knows what He is doing. This season of trial is not just for kicks or part of an elaborate hoax. It is necessary - for some reason.

I know for sure that it has served the purpose to show me some things about myself - things I certainly wish were not true. I go through these periods in my life where I get pretty complacent about things. It is not being rebellious or belligerent. It is just that I'm not as attentive as I should be. One way I can explain it is this: Growing up my mom had two rock gardens outside the front door. There were tons of white rocks, with plants sticking through and potted plants on top. One of our few regular duties was to weed the gardens. Needless to say, I loved this job - jumped right up off the couch to go sit on a stool and pull little tiny shards of grass and weed in the brutal Florida sun. Woot! I hated doing it. It was worse than anything else I had to do - even picking up the doggie doo. Now, I knew it was my job. And I knew I was going to get told to do it. I could have been forward-thinking and as I came and went through the front door bent down and pulled up the random green stuff poking through as it grew. But I stayed away from those gardens until it was demanded that I go clean them. (Lest you think I was alone in this puerile behavior - I was not the only Staples kid griping out there.) So now, what could have been a easy five-minute a week job became a three-hour marathon of weeding.

That's the way I am with my own life. I could keep up with things as I see them veering into a problem. I think that my behaviors and attitudes are not anywhere near as bad as most people. I ignore little warning signs, and after several months of doing this I am in a big mess. And then God has to get my attention and work those things out of me. It happened in high school through my English teacher Mr. Trotsky and Sunday School teachers Bob Bray and John Long. It happened again - to a more advance degree - in college through Jeff Kipi and Byron Kirkpatrick. This was where I began to understand that God doesn't want me to perform to someone else's best - He wants MY best. And I have had to do this several other times - each time is painful and difficult. God is going to get your attention - like I tell my son. If I have to take every toy, book, and movie to get you to learn to listen, I will do it. Same principle.

Well, as I get older and more mature, the things that are getting drawn out are deeper beneath the surface. I am a far cry from the punk teenager who moved to Orlando back in 1992. I have grown a lot and learned about life and myself and God. But that also means that some of this stuff that God has had to pull on was waaaaaay deep inside. As it has been tugged on, it has hurt - a lot. It hurts to hear your wife tell you things about your selfish behavior and how damaging it is to everyone around you. It hurts to have your kids point out things you are doing wrong. It hurts to read a chapter of a Tommy Nelson book and see yourself failing on 15 of 40 points. It hurts to realize that you are so far from where you thought you were and should be.

Today, I had a thought about how this process looks. I remembered reading a story - and it took me forever to realize it was Voyage of the Dawn Treader. One of the characters - Eustace, cousin of the Pevensie children from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - was an awful kid. And through several circumstances, he turned into a dragon. He wanted to change, Aslan took him to a pool. The great Lion told Eustace to get in the pool - but to undress first. Eustace tried to take off the dragon skin three times, but it grew back each time. This is how the rest of it all went down.
“Then the lion said—but I don’t know if it spoke—You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. . . . Well, he pulled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. . . . Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on— and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me—”

“Dressed you. With his paws?”

“Well, I don’t exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes—the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact. And then suddenly I was back here.”
That story just kept going through my head all day today. The metaphor is pretty obvious with how only God can change us - and only through His power. And then he dresses us in new clothes of His making. I just kept thinking about how it has been months and months of God trying to get my attention on things. And I was not able to hear. I'm not saying every single thing that has been happening has been because of this. But I know that God certainly did want me to learn these lessons. And it has been painful. I hope that now that God has been able to rip through my arrogance, complacency, blindness, and selfishness that I will be able to work on those things He has shown me. I want to keep up with things better - not let so much time go between routine upkeeps of my soul. I want to be a better example to my kids, a better husband to my wife, a better teacher to my students, a better friend. And I hope it stops hurting soon.

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